By Peter Waymark Motoring Correspondent
British Leyland, Britain’s largest motor manufacturer, does not intend to bring out smaller cars in response to the energy crisis. Instead it is to concentrate on making as existing family saloons, such as the Marina and Allegro; much more economical.
Commenting yesterday on the view of the Government’s Central Policy Review Staff, or think tank , that a change to smaller cars offered the biggest potential energy saving in the private transport field, Leyland said: “The majority of our popular models are extremely economical, giving at least 30 miles to the gallon and often much more. But we think that big improvements can still be made, and our research over the next five to 10 years will aim to secure fuel savings of up to 50 per cent.”
Leyland does not feel that the size of the average saloon will change very much, as family motorists will continue to demand the sort of accommodation offered by popular models such as the Marina. Savings on fuel, which may entail some sacrifice of performance, are being sought by refinements to existing engines and by developing a new range of lighter and more efficient aluminium units which should be ready in about five years.
Leyland engineers will be looking at such factors, as higher gearing, new body shapes to reduce drag, the cutting down of friction losses, lighter bodyshells and further refinements in carburation. More cars may be fitted with five-speed gearboxes or overdrives. The company is also looking at the wider application of small diesel engines for cars and light commercial vehicles. Diesels are very economical but tend to be noisy in a car. Leyland sees no immediate advance in steam or electric cars, but research work will continue.
On the future of the luxury car, Leyland feels that its Jaguar, though thirsty, is unlikely. to be made in sufficient volume to be a serious drain on fuel resources. Even if plans to double output to 60,000 units a year are realized, that will still be only a tiny part of the company’s output of nearly a million cars. Leyland has been in the small car market since the launch of the Mini 15 years ago. Now several other big companies are developing “minis” for the first time.
Ford, which had been reluctant to manufacture a model smaller than the Escort because of the low profit margins on small cars, plans to introduce’ a new model in the Fiat 127 Renault 5 class in 1976. Vauxhall is also launching a smaller car than its current Viva. It is due to appear next year, and will have a one-litre engine with the emphasis on fuel economy. In the longer run, General Motors, which owns both Vauxhall and the German manufacturer Opel, may bring out a European ‘mini” which would be marketed by both companies.
Although British car sales as a whole have’ been down by , nearly 30 per cent this year because of the oil crisis and the effects of the three-day week, small cars have been taking a bigger share of the market. Hillman Imp and Fiat 127 sales are up on last year and the Mini, small Citroens and Renault 4 are selling at or only slightly below 1973 levels.